Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Review: Juno

Last night I went to a special screening of the new film, "Juno," which included a Q&A session with screenwriter Diablo Cody and was kind of like getting the DVD extras before the DVD actually comes out -- which is to say, it was great.

"Juno" is the first screenplay written by Cody, who started out blogging about her life as a stripper. She eventually wrote a book about her experiences and soon after that was invited to write the script that became "Juno."

Seeing this movie, you would not know this is the work of a first-time screenwriter except for the fact that the work has the integrity of a newcomer. This is a very funny and ultimately very touching film about Juno, a 16 year old girl who gets pregnant, as her stepmother says, for the true and mundane reason that sometimes "kids get bored and they have intercourse," and decides to give the baby up for adoption to a seemingly perfect couple played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. The emotional core of the film, Cody claimed, comes from director Jason Reitman. "I don't like message movies," Cody said. "I don't like movies where anything touching or moving happens. I like 'Anchorman' so that should tell you something."

I think she's selling herself way short there. The complexity of these characters and the situations they're in cannot help but generate emotion, from Garner's character who's desperate to be a mother to Bateman's character who's kind of a creep (sorta, maybe) to Juno who tries to be tough but who wants everything to be right so badly that it hurts to the father of the baby, played by Michael Cera, who just seems confused but good-hearted about the whole thing. This is a complicated movie with heart and charm and great jokes including my favorite, a description of the Roosevelts -- "not Ted," Juno says, "but Franklin, the hot one with polio."

The acting is uniformly outstanding. Ellen Page, who you may remember from a disturbingly inverted Red Riding Hood tale called "Hard Candy," plays Juno as a girl who is blisteringly smart about everything except how the world really works. Allison Janney as Juno's stepmother steals every scene she's in and I'm begging the powers that be to give her that Oscar nomination right now. Jennifer Garner is wonderful, too, as a woman who wants a baby so badly she becomes blind to everything else around her. And Michael Cera puts in another fine performance as a good kid in a tough situation. Jason Bateman does a fascinating turn, too, as a guy not yet ready to grow up. Despite the things he does, Bateman plays his character in such a way that you just can't hate him. As Cody said, "I want (him) to be happy, too, even though he's creepy."

As an aside, it was great to see "Arrested Development" co-stars Cera and Bateman in a movie together even though they never share the screen. As an "Arrested Development" fan herself, Cody said, "If I had known they were going to be in the film together, I would have written nine scenes with them together and totally fucked up the movie." It might actually have been worth it.

If you have a chance to see this film, do it. Now. Please.


dr.gambit said...

where is it it anywhere in MI? reitman and cody were on fresh air (w/ terry gross), great interview... I wanted to see it before this i really want to see it.
Fresh Air link:

Liz said...

I don't think it's officially open yet in Michigan. I wish I'd known you wanted to see it, I could have gotten you a pass.

I did hear the Fresh Air interview. They were great. Reitman was supposed to be there last night, too, but his flight was delayed and he didn't get in until after the movie ended. Poor guy, flying to Detroit for no good reason.